Like a wily old veteran that has seemingly been on campus for a decade, Tino Ellis has been garnering headlines at powerhouse DeMatha going on four years now.
Don’t expect them to stop anytime soon.
The four-star rising senior wideout will continue his career at the university just 10 minutes from his Hyattsville, Md., high school, keeping his talents front and center for local football fans for at least another three falls.
During a much-anticipated live television broadcast July 31, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Ellis announced he would indeed be attending the University of Maryland in 2016, becoming the latest DMV recruit to choose the hometown school.
“Maryland has been on me since the beginning,” Ellis said. “I have a great relationship with the coaches there, I’m familiar with everyone up there and it’s just a great place to be. I see [Maryland] every day, it’s in my backyard and it’s a chance to play in front of the home fans and my family. … With all of us [local prospects] going there, it’s a program on the rise and [the Terps] have a chance to do something big.”
While Ellis considered the likes of Virginia Tech (a one-time leader for his services), Rutgers, West Virginia, Nebraska, Kentucky, Wisconsin and others, his UMD pledge had been years in the making.
Fact is, even before the Reisterstown, Md., native reached high school, Ellis had been dubbed a potential star in the making stemming from youth coach Mike Anderson’s Grassroots league. Not surprisingly, he arrived in Hyattsville complete with vein-strewn arms and bulging biceps -- a product of a disciplined training and weight-lifting program -- while flashing fundamentals and athleticism dubbed too advanced for the freshmen or junior varsity levels.
An immediate varsity contributor, rare at a Division I factory like DeMatha, Ellis impacted the offense almost instantly. Although a rotational player sitting behind a multitude of upperclassmen, Ellis’ long stride -- which allowed him to cover ground faster than his 40-yard-dash time would indicate -- refined route running and pillow-soft hands caught the eye of more than just DeMatha head coach Elijah Brooks.
University of Maryland area recruiter Mike Locksley, notorious for connecting with local youth coaches and uncovering potential star talent, had already identified Ellis as a “must have” recruit. So it came as little shock when the Terps became the first school to offer the freshman, shortly after his first high school campaign.
The proverbial seed had been planted, some three years before Ellis would choose his college destination.
“Maryland was my very first offer. They’ve been on me forever, and that means a lot,” said Ellis, whose second offer was actually from Virginia Tech, which just so happened to finish runner-up to Maryland. “They wanted me before I got all these big offers. Coach Locksley, he’s known me since, like, the eighth grade, and we’ve had a great relationship since then. … He’s been recruiting me longer than anyone. He’s always up at [DeMatha] and just staying in touch.”
During the two years after landing said Terps’ scholarship, Ellis, whose offer-list slowly grew as his output and abilities became more apparent on the national stage, visited College Park, Md., on countless occasions; including for multiple June camp days, junior days, game days, practice days and personal visit days.
He took note of the Byrd Stadium atmosphere during primetime games against West Virginia and UVA, while later taking in a Big Ten battle against Rutgers. He praised the team’s overall work ethic and energy during workouts, mentioning the rapport between staff and player. During a junior day, he lauded the proposed indoor fields in Cole Field House, renovated locker room, upgraded player dorms, and the soon-to-be-constructed underground tunnel.
And he never left campus without talking up the coaches. Ellis already knew Locksley, but eventually he began to develop a rapport with head coach Randy Edsall, receivers’ coach Keenan McCardell and others too.
“Coach Edsall, his message to me has been the same since the beginning, just stay home, be part of something big at Maryland, and how [the Terps] have a lot to offer me. We’ve had some real good talks, just about life, football, everything,” Ellis said. “And Coach McCardell, he’s a real good coach and I know he could teach me a lot. He has a lot of experience in the NFL, and I feel like he can help develop my game. We have a great relationship too, and he’s fun to talk to. Really, I have a great relationship with all those [coaches]. I know everyone at Maryland really well.”
While the Maryland staff did the heavy lifting, Ellis’ teammates deserve an assist in this recruitment as well. Now, Ellis didn’t choose Maryland just because DeMatha running back LoLo Harrison and slot D.J. Turner had already pledged to the Terps, but he certainly heeded their words.
Harrison, for his part, has been committed to UMD since July 2014, the main fly in Ellis’ ear for more than a year now.
“Lo, he’s always talking about Maryland, telling me to commit there,” Ellis said previously. “He’s always trying to get me up there, telling me I need to stay home and how great the coaches are. D.J., he says the same thing; he hits me up all the time telling me about Maryland. Whenever they go up there [to visit] they’re always trying to get me to come. … What they’re saying sounds really good, just playing with them in college and being on the same offense as them. I think we can do big things there.”
Maybe even bigger things with four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins (Bullis/Potomac, Md.) in the fold.
Following Harrison’s and Turner’s pledges, the four-star quarterback committed to Maryland in May, the bulwark behind the so-called DMV-to-UMD movement.
“Dwayne, he’s always hitting me up on Twitter telling me he needs a receiver like me to throw to,” Ellis said. “He’s been telling me how we could be a great tandem there and how he needs me there. So that definitely helps [Maryland].
“But, you know, the feeling is if we [locals] stay around … we know we can do big things at Maryland. We know the talent that’s here, and if we all went to the same school, we can be special.”
Of course, Ellis is well aware of Maryland’s track record for producing receivers too. While Ellis was prepping his game at the youth level, he was also watching Torrey Smith shine for UMD. Meanwhile, he’s been able to see Stefon Diggs firsthand at Byrd Stadium the last couple years.
Ellis isn’t one to compare himself to other wideouts, but he would like to follow in Smith’s and Diggs’ footsteps at UMD.
“Just the success of the receivers, be it Stefon Diggs or Torrey Smith, in the past. Those guys, they got the job done here, so that's the model you can be," Ellis said. “I feel like I can have the same kind of impact in that offense at Maryland.”
But while the Baltimore product always had Maryland firmly entrenched, the Terps were hardly a lock from the outset. Nor was College Park the only locale he frequented. Ellis took numerous trips to Rutgers, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, all of which he counted as standouts during the last couple years.
In fact, the Hokies, with cousin Donovan Riley and former teammate Cam Phillips pushing, held prime appeal, a stated leader for much of Ellis’ recruitment.
But in the waning weeks leading up to Ellis’ July 31, 2015, decision day, Maryland reclaimed the top spot thanks to two final spring College Park trips, including once when the Terps hosted Ellis and his parents.
“My parents love Maryland. The academic part of it really stands out, how it’s a great education and the coaches really push classroom work there,” Ellis said. “They really like what Maryland is about. … They’re not pushing me into anything and are letting me make my own decision, but they do like Maryland a lot.”
Ellis did too. Thus, after much back-and-forth, hemming and hawing, the DeMatha receiver settled on the school that has been with him since the eighth grade. His commitment is firm, the four-star fully on-board with Maryland.
“[The Terps have] proven to me everything, they’ve shown me everything,” said Ellis, whose field-stretching game recalls a young Reggie Wayne. “I know we can do something special there.”
Ellis The Next Cog In DMV-to-UMD
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